By RICH KEITH, Four Points News
Last month, the River Place MUD served the US Army Corps of Engineers and US Fish and Wildlife Service a Notice of Intent to Sue both agencies because neither has jurisdiction over the MUD owned conservation land, and there has been no harm of the Golden Cheeked Warbler.
The NOI was filed on Sept. 17 by Attorney Alan Glen on behalf of the MUD and he asked the agencies to respond within 30 days.
Boosted by two recent biologist surveys which confirm species populations are healthy in the area, the objective of the potential lawsuit is to obtain a declaratory judgment from the court that the MUD has a right to build the trail on its land. This fact has been challenged and resulted in a trail closure in March 2012.
On Saturday, the Friends of River Place Nature Trail is holding a rally to show public support to reopen the upper River Place Nature Trail. The event will be at Sun Tree Park in River Place at 7 p.m. right after the neighborhood Hoedown.
“The rally is important and all are welcome,” said Jim Casey, president of the River Place MUD. “Voice your opinion, because this is the kind of government we have.”
The rally is also to share the facts about this “unjust and scientifically unsupportable closure,” according to Friends of River Place president Sandy Perry.
Friends of the River Place also hope for more people to sign their petition and to add to the 1,175 names already collected. Their petition. and related email effort is directed at the US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, a noted trail enthusiast and former CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc.
“We want people to know that an opportunity exists now to demonstrate something which will last into the future: namely that species and people can co-exist, right here in River Place,” Glen said.
In the NOI document, Glen is asking the Corps to simply step away from the issue and allow the MUD and the city to work out the details amicably.
Background on RP Nature Trail
As reported previously in the Four Points News, the City of Austin asked the River Place MUD to close the contested portion of the trail which the city says encroaches on the Cortana Tract. River Place complied with the request pending resolution of the issue. Cortana is a city-owned wildland area within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and which was set up using an original consultation with the Corps from 1993.
Previously the MUD asked for and received instructions on how to fix the error from the city and federal agencies, yet has remained in a holding pattern for months awaiting permits from the City of Austin to do the work.
“We didn’t do anything wrong for building a trail in a nature preserve; there are many such trails in the Austin area,” Casey said. “It’s a good thing because it allows people to appreciate the benefits awarded us by the Endangered Species Act.”
“It’s a mistake to think that a perfectly-planned nature trail is harmful to the preserve and to the species in it,” Glen stated.
“While the Army Corps of Engineers made the original consultation in 1993 which set up the Cortana Tract, today using this document is a mistake,” Glen said. “First, the permit under which the original River Place developer operated with the Corp expired 15 years ago, in 1997.”
“And secondly, the River Place MUD was not a party to and was not bound by that original consultation,” Glen continues. “When the MUD took over, the MUD received a deed to the entire property which was not conditioned on no trails.”
Ironically, the government shutdown is affecting the process. USFW personnel have been sent home, and further have been directed not to open email according to Glen.